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Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Modi, Sharif maintain distance at Saarc summit...........



KATHMANDU: They shared the dais but leave alone a handshake, there was no exchange of courtesies between Prime Ministers of India and Pakistan during the nearly three-hour Saarc Summit here on Wednesday.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif, who were sitting two seats away from each other, did not look at each other even when Sharif crossed before and after delivering his speech at the 18th meeting of the eight-member regional bloc.

Leaders of Maldives and Nepal were seated between Modi and Sharif.

Though there is no "structured" meeting scheduled between the two leaders, a brief exchange of pleasantries was expected given that they would be attending the same conference and the retreat on Thursday.

While on Tuesday Sharif had sought to put the ball in India's court for an initiative for talks, saying "cancellation of talks was New Delhi's unilateral decision," and "ball is now India's court for talks between both the countries".

India maintained that it was for "meaningful dialogue" which involves specifics.

"We have been shouting from the top of the roof that we are ready for meaningful dialogue. The emphasis was on meaningful. The meaningful dialogue has a meaning in diplomacy. In Pakistan, they know it very clearly what we mean by meaningful dialogue as they know us and understand us. They know everything," external affairs ministry spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin said when asked about Sharif's remarks.


(Prime Minister Narendra Modi with other Saarc nations' leaders at the summit. (PTI photo)

PM seeks concerted efforts to combat terrorism at Saarc summit

Six years to the day when Pakistani terrorists killed 166 people in Mumbai, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday said the pledge taken by Saarc nations to combat terror and transnational crimes should be fulfilled.

"Today, as we remember the horror of the terror attack in Mumbai in 2008, we feel the endless pain of lost lives. Let us work together to fulfil the pledge we have taken to combat terrorism and trans-national crimes," Modi told the Saarc leaders who included Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

During his nearly 30-minute speech at the summit, Modi outlined India's various initiatives in key sectors of health, science, visa regimes and connectivity for the Saarc region as he pitched to turn South Asia of "flowering hope into a rich field of peace and prosperity" by collective efforts.

He said joint efforts were "more urgent than in South Asia; and, nowhere else is it so modest."

Besides India, the eight-member Saarc bock include Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, the Maldives and Afghanistan.

Noting that a good neighbourhood is a universal aspiration, Modi said, "If we are sensitive to each other's security, and the lives of our people, we will deepen friendships, spur cooperation and advance stability in our region."

Seeking to improve the trade and business atmosphere in the region, the Prime Minister said India will give business visa for 3-5 years for Saarc and proposed to make it even easier through a Saarc Business Traveller Card.

He said the South Asia is a region of thriving democracy; of rich inheritance; the unmatched strength of youth; and, a strong thirst for change and progress.

"I dream for India is the future I wish for our entire region," he said.

The Prime Minister praised the Saarc leaders for attending his inauguration ceremony in May, saying "I stepped into the office with the greetings of the entire world. But, what moved me, dear colleagues, was your personal presence."

Sharing his experience of foreign visits, Modi said that "from the middle of the Pacific, to the southern coast of Atlantic Ocean, I see a rising tide of integration."

Stating that the barriers of boundaries inhibit progress, Modi said international partnerships add speed to growth.

"Big and small, we face the same challenges — a long climb to the summit of development. But, I have great belief in our boundless potential; and, confidence — that comes from the many inspiring stories of innovation and initiative in each of our countries," he said.

"Though the Saarc formed 30 years ago, when we speak of Saarc, we usually hear two reactions — cynicism and scepticism," Modi said, adding that "Let us work to change cynicism into optimism."

Modi lamented that less than 5 per cent of the region's global trade takes place between Saarc nations.

"Even at this modest level, less than 10 per cent of the region's internal trade takes place under Saarc Free Trade Area," he said, noting that Indian firms are investing billions abroad, but less than 1 per cent flow into the region.

"It is still harder to travel within our region than to Bangkok or Singapore; and, more expensive to speak to each other," he said.

"How much have we done in Saarc to turn our natural wealth into shared prosperity; or, our borders into bridgeheads to a shared future?" he asked.

Modi said India given five South Asian partners duty free access to 99.7 per cent of their goods and his government is prepared to do more with others.

"For India, it has been a privilege to provide assistance of nearly $8 billion in South Asia over a decade," he said.


Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif reacts during Saarc summit in Kathmandu. (Reuters photo)

"Infrastructure is our region's greatest weakness and it's most pressing need. When I thought of coming to Kathmandu by road, it made many officials in India nervous. Because of the condition of roads at the border," he said, adding that Infrastructure is "my greatest priority" in India.

"I also want to set up a special purpose facility in India to finance infrastructure projects in our region that enhances our connectivity and trade," he added.

Noting that India has a huge trade surplus with Saarc countries, he said that this "neither right nor sustainable."

"We will address your concerns and give you a level playing field in India. But, I encourage you to attract Indian investments to produce for the Indian market and create jobs for your youth," he added.

"We should use the strength of shared heritage and our diversity to encourage tourism within our region, and present South Asia to the world. We could begin with the Buddhist circuit, but we don't have to stop there," he said.

In the area of health, Modi said, India will meet the shortfall in funds to establish the Saarc Regional Supra Reference Laboratory for TB and HIV.

"We offer the five-in-one vaccine for the children of South Asia. We will support monitoring and surveillance of polio-free countries, and provide vaccines where it might reappear," he said.

"And, for those coming to India for medical treatment, India will provide immediate medical visa for the patient and an attendant," he added.

He also talked about launching a satellite for the Saarc region, saying "it will benefit us all in areas like education, telemedicine, disaster response, resource management, weather forecasting and communication."